Sue Smith says she was known as “the little tomboy” when she started playing football as a child and insists gender stereotyping is “still an issue” within the sport.
Despite women’s football experiencing an enormous growth in the last 10 years at both amateur and professional level, the women’s game still struggles to gain the same acceptance and status as the men’s.
Former England international Smith joined Sky Sports News presenter Jessica Creighton on The Women’s Football Show this week, along with Scotland captain Rachel Corsie and Goal Diggers FC’s Esther Jones Russell, to discuss gender stereotypes within football.
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Smith: I was known as the little tomboy
Smith, who scored 16 goals in 93 appearances for her country, says football was considered to be a male sport when she started playing as a youngster.
“I started to play football when I was about five years old and there were no girls teams that I could play for, so I had to play for a local boys team,” she said.
“I think I was the only girl in the whole village who actually played football. I was just known as ‘the little tomboy’ but it didn’t bother me. I just wanted to play football, so I didn’t really care about that.
“I know that there are a lot of girls in my school who loved playing football, but they wouldn’t play because they didn’t want to have that tomboy name.
“When I was at school the boys played football and rugby, and the girls played hockey and netball. I played hockey and netball, but I just wanted to play football as well.
“I remember there was a boy in my year who wanted to play netball and he was called so many names. I go into schools quite regularly and often when I go in there I’ll get a PE teacher saying to me ‘I’ve got a group of girls here, they don’t want to take part in PE. Can you try and make them take part or find out why they won’t?’.
“A lot of things that come up are pretty much what we speak about. They say they don’t want to play because they’ll get sweaty, their make-up will get messed up, their hair will be a mess and the boys won’t fancy them anymore.
“It’s about trying to tell them all the positive things that sport and physical activity gives them, and to try and change that perception of playing sport. It is still an issue.”
Corsie: Why sport can be daunting for teenage girls
Scotland captain Rachel Corsie explained her experiences of getting into sport and how gender stereotypes can have an impact.
“There were other girls who played sport which I think made it easier for me to integrate into either girls teams or play with the boys, because I think that was just all they knew,” Corsie said.
“I wasn’t isolated, I wasn’t on my own, so I know I was fortunate in that regard. Similarly, I’ve heard and I speak in schools as well and see the issues that Sue speaks about too.
“If you’re growing up nowadays, for a lot of girls it’s seen as a bit daunting to jeopardise your hair or your make-up. You’re in those teenage years and you’re starting to think about the future and you don’t want to be different from others and it’s all a bit scary.”
Goal Diggers FC: Removing stereotypes
Goal Diggers FC’s Esther Jones Russell says the club, which welcomes women and non-binary people, is trying to move away from the idea of sport being viewed as ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’.
“A big thing that Goal Diggers tries to do is move away from this idea, because I think putting people in those boxes can be really damaging and can end up promoting more sexism and homophobia within the sports arena.
“I think what’s really important is we show that football is a space for everyone and making sure that women and non-binary people are viewed as equals to male footballers, and that will help counter this idea of women being viewed as masculine just by playing the sport.”
Sky Sports is a member of TeamPride which supports Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces campaign. If you’d like to help inspire others in sport by sharing your own story of being LGBT+ or an ally, please contact us here.
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